Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI)

Princeton, New Jersey

To promote and teach social justice-centered worship through proclamation, practice, and protest. 

Provide a brief summary of the purpose and goal of your grant. 

With America's original sin and the unprecedented events of 2020 on our minds, BTLI designed and implemented an innovative year-long fellowship program for our fellows that positions our annual summer institute as the capstone event and promoted unique social-justice centered worship practices in our Institute worship. We always plan with the intention of our fellows taking their learnings from BTLI back to their congregations and organizations. Our year included BTLI's summer capstone event, monthly Zoom check in's, self-study and reflection, and a final worship project and reflection. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year? 

1. How are the fullness of God, God's love, and God's call to "do justice" present in our worship? 

2. What is God (spirit) asking of us to worship in "spirit and truth" as Jesus offers in John 4:24? Whose truth? What truths? How can we become the "true worshipers"? 

In what ways has your project engaged your congregation so that it impacts the worship life and habits of the congregation? 

This project nourished healthy congregational life by inspiring our bond as an Institute. Because we are not a typical local congregation, reflecting on BTLI as a worshipping community has inspired our advisory group. Participating clergy and lay leaders are our congregations. When they attend BTLI, they often take off their leader hats and allow us to lead and care for them. We minister to ministers providing space to relax, learn, and enjoy worship in a different role. We anticipated that they would return to their churches feeling refreshed and able to continue the yearlong work with renewal and creativity. Through our monthly check-ins, I feel that many of our original goals are happening. 

What criteria have you used to evaluate your plan to foster vital worship? 

We have evaluated through our monthly check-ins, making time for conversation and updates on ways that each fellow has used the lessons from last summer's session in their respective congregational lives. We have also attempted to answer our main grant questions together. 

What issues have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

The greatest challenges to our work this year has been timing. Because we are a unique congregation, it has been hard for us to meet as a group in the ways that hoped. Some of our plans were revised and adjusted as our BTLI fellows were available to participate. As well, as project manager, I had a personal family emergency in April that meant that I was not able to be as active in my engagement with the group. 

What would you like to share with other Project Directors? 

Make your plans doable. The brainstorming and big dreams/ideas are wonderful and can happen. But pace yourself and do what you really can in a year.